THE PELAGIAN ISLANDS
Their name, of greek origin, literally translates as ‘High-Sea Islands’. They lie about 200km off the coast of Agrigento, between Malta and Tunisia. The archipelago comprises Lampedusa, the main island with a surface area of 33 square kilometres, and the two smaller Linosa and Lampione. The latter, desert and only accommodating a lighthouse, with its steep walls plunging to 60m depth and uncontaminated sea-floors, is a real paradise for divers and snorkelers.
The island of Lampedusa consists of a flat limestone platform which culminates, at the northern end, in a series of dramatic cliffs. The south coast, on the other hand, is jaggedly rugged as headlands alternate with small, precipitous creeks sheltering sandy beaches.
Closer to Africa than it is to Italy, the island is surrounded by a spectacular seascape, with incredible colors ranging from transparent-blue, to turquoise and emerald-green. On the island there is no farming activity, its soil being white, dry and stony, much alike a desert. The residents mostly live on tourism and fishing, as a considerable flight anchored at its sheltered harbor will testify. Discoveries across the territory attest to human settlements on Lampedusa dating from the Bronze Age. In 1843, the island belonged to the aristocratic Lampedusa family (one of its members, Giuseppe Tomasi, was the author of the celebrated novel The Leopard) and was successively acquired by King Ferdinand who had a penitentiary built and sent a handful of people to reside there.
A Submerged World
Lampedusa is a paradise for snorkelers and divers who can enjoy a rich and unspoiled submerged world inhabited by corals, sponges, madrepores, the colored parrot-fish and, by Capo Grecale at only 50m depth, the lobster. Its mostly sandy sea-ground suddenly turns into a dark-green due to the posidonia, a marine plant that is known as the Mediterranean lung for its releasing oxygen in the water, giving life to beautiful underwater plains.
The only city on Lampedusa, bearing the island’s same name, develops around the main Roma street, notably crowded at breakfast time and at night, it hosting a cluster of shops and cafés with outdoor tables, where, in the summer, live music or entertainment shows take place.
Circumnavigation of the Island
A boat tour of the island can be easily reserved at the harbor where lots of boats are available at cheap prices. The tour usually departs at 10.00am and returns at 5.00pm.
The low and jagged coast of Lampedusa is rich in inlets and bays; among these, is the Tabaccara, a splendid bay bathed by turquoise waters. The northern shore features a high cliff with plenty of impressing caves. Past the Baia della Madonnina (that got its name because of a rock that resembles the Virgin Mary) is the Sacramento Cliff, with a deepest grotto. In the North-Eastern end, known as Capo Grecale, is a lighthouse visible from up to 60 miles away, where extends a beautiful view of the coastal landscape. Then is the Grotta del Teschio (the Skull Grotto), hiding a 15m long sandy-beach, reachable by boat or along a rough path at right. Tourists are advised to hire a bike or a mini-truck for a driving tour since roads of the island are partly unpaved. From the centre of Lampedusa head eastwards for the airport. The unpaved road running alongside the landing strip passes by the many bays on the Southern side of the Island.
Albero del Sole – (the Sun Tree) So is called the highest point on Lampedusa (about 133m a.s.l.), where stands a circular structure preserving a wooden crucifix. There, from a stone wall at the edge of a steep slope, you can enjoy a dramatic sight of the sea. Tourists are recommended to be extremely careful when near the edge. Returning to the semi-asphalted road you will see an area of recent reafforestation. At the end of the enclosing wall, follow the path soon leading to a small iron cross. On your right, a promontory offers an enchanting view of the Sacramento Cliff. From here, the small Lampione Island is visible, on the left, in the distance. Return to the main road and continue southward to the Rabbit Island’s Bay.
Bay of the Isola dei Conigli – This broad bay is petticoated with white cliffs and the most beautiful beach on the island; few metres offshore nestles a little islet. The beach, with its finest sand, gently slopes to transparent waters that splendidly turn to turquoise and emerald green. Here the Caretta-Caretta turtle lays her eggs during the breeding season, an event today threatened by the big influx of tourists staying late at night when she usually comes ashore for nesting.
Further, here is the only habitat in Italy for the psammodromus algarus, a particular type of striped lizard native to North-Western Africa, namely Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
Madonna di Porto Salvo – It is a small shrine of ancient unknown date and origin surrounded by a beautiful garden.
How to reach Lampedusa – The simplest way to reach Lampedusa is by plane, it being well-served by connections from Palermo and, in the summer months, by directs flights from Milan, Bergamo, Rome, Venice and Verona. A ferry service is also available from Agrigento. Since this arrives late at night, tourists may encounter problems to overnight, unless they have or hire a vehicle.
What to buy – The island’s natural sponges are a favorite souvenir for tourists. Whiter sponges, albeit attracting, may result from a chemical treatment that shortens their life span. The darker ones will definitely last longer. Linosa is especially renowned for food “souvenirs”, like lentils and pomodorini, and for its reed-baskets, much appreciated by tourists.
And for dinner? – On the island are many small restaurants and trattorias specialized in fish dishes, among which is a not-to-miss couscous. The Trattoria-Pizzeria Da Nicola, by the Rabbit Islands’s Bay is especially recommended.